I got to watch Virtanen last night vs. the Cougars. One thing I noticed right away is his presence on the ice. When he is out there, you notice him every shift. He played a very driven game and his compete level was higher than anyone else on his team. He is slightly above average-size but he is thick and you can tell by the way he plays that he is much stronger than most of the other players out there. He stands up for teammates and he is a definite leader on the Hitmen.
As far as offence goes Jake has it all: size, speed, a nose for the net, and he always seemed to be in the right position to give/take a pass or hit a rebound chance. He has a really hard, accurate shot and a very quick release (as Edmonds learned the hard way last night). He is very aggressive on the forecheck which is nice, however, it put him out of position on occasion. He is fortunate because his speed usually allowed him to get back into the play quickly. He seemed to be absolutely dominant off the rush, blowing past the Cougars in the neutral zone and gaining the blue-line with ease. He has pretty good vision and set up a number of teammates off the rush, but they couldn't bury the chances.
He is good with his stick and can take the puck away from players easily, but it's very obvious that he is not a defence-first kind of player. He will get back and help out his team in the defensive zone (he back checks hard) but he is nothing like Horvat in the defensive zone (he also plays wing which makes this comparison kind of moot). He is exciting to watch and he plays his best hockey when he plays with a chip on his shoulder or when the game is on the line.(He was noticeably better when the Hitmen were down by a goal).
In regards to making the team next year, I doubt he will. I do agree that he has the size and skill to make the NHL but he needs to mature positionally and defensively a little bit before he makes the leap. This is not to say his positioning or defence are bad (which they are not), but they are not his strongest attributes. He is dominant offensively and I would say slightly above average defensively. People who are comparing him to Bo need to realize that the reason we picked Horvat was because of his insanely good 2-way game. His hockey sense, vision, and strength (not to mention face-off skills) were all elite in the OHL last year. He did get a number of points, but his ability to play in all three zones was what set him apart from other players with similar stats. Those are the attributes that allowed Bo to transition to the NHL so easily (not his offensive flair). Virtanen is a much different player. He is a POWER FORWARD through and through. He plays an offensively driven game which will take more time to flourish in the NHL. He also is not elite defensively, which will make it harder for him to crack the roster right away (as he will make rookie mistakes and cost us goals).
There is no doubt in my mind that Virtanen will be a big part of the Canucks in the future, but I expect at least another year of dominating junior and perhaps a year of learning the pro game in Utica. I doubt he'll be in the AHL long, however, because once he learns the little things that make a pro a pro, his size, speed, and offensive skills will carry him through to the NHL.